Five years ago, Susannah Harper’s son Joel went missing without a trace. Bereft of her son and then of her husband John, Susannah tries to accept she might never know for certain what happened to her lost loved ones. She has rebuilt her life around a simple selfless mission: to help others who, like her, must learn to live without hope.
But then, on the last night of the Hull Fair, a fortune-teller makes an eerie prediction. Susannah is told that this Christmas Eve, Joel will finally come back to her.
As her carefully constructed life begins to unravel, Susannah is drawn into a world of psychics and charlatans, half-truths and hauntings, friendship and betrayals, forcing her to confront the buried truths of her family’s past, where nothing and no one are quite as they seem.
Since Susannah Harper’s son Joel went missing she’s done everything she can to find him, losing her marriage in the process. She now has a blog, Life Without Hope, that aims to help others dealing with the loss of a loved one and warn of the dangers of the psychics that take your money and prey on your hope. But at the Hull Fair Susannah feels drawn to see a clairvoyant who tells her Joel will return home Christmas Eve, her long wait will finally be over. Despite her misgivings Susannah is determined to hold onto this prediction, but doing so sees her life spiral out of control and unravel piece by piece.
The story is told in present day and in flashbacks to life before Joel’s disappearance. He was a longed-for child and Susannah and her husband, John, had very different approaches to parenting, something that caused arguments and resentment between them and a difficult relationship between Joel and John. When Joel’s behaviour goes past typical teenage moods and he begins to skip school and take drugs, Susannah continues to do what she thinks best. But her approach is only making matters worse and it is her and Joel versus John until things boil over and Joel isn’t seen again. In the present day Susannah is still trying to find Joel and the clairvoyant’s prediction is never far from her mind. Her obsession with these things leads to her alienating those she’s close to and is the start of disturbing hallucinations of awful things befalling her son. Are they real? Or is her imagination getting the better of her? And will Joel really return on Christmas Eve?
As the mother of two 14 year old boys I found reading this book difficult at times. It confronts every parent’s worst fear: the disappearance of your child without a trace. A lot of Joel’s behaviour was familiar to me: the sullen attitude, the glimpses of your little boy one minute and then the angry hormone monster the next, but thankfully I’ve not had to deal with the more troubling behaviour he displayed. While I often disagreed with her actions, my mothers heart weeped for Susannah as I could empathise with the devastation and guilt she must feel. Also despite her mistakes you know she was only trying to do her best, which is all any of us can do when raising children.
The book keeps you guessing about Joel’s fate and what is happening to Susannah and I was shocked by the ending. I found her a hard character to like in terms of her personality, but still a sympathetic character because of what she was going through. I enjoyed this book and thought it was well written in terms of the anguish of what Susannah was going through, but it lacked the level suspense that was needed to have you dying to find out what happened.